Last week I spoke at MSU Denver to students participating in its DACA/Undocumented Health Opportunities Program. My theme? “Building a Pipeline of Providers to Serve Diverse Communities.” Attending were 50 to 60 students discerning health science careers. College is challenging for everyone but being DACA/undocumented and in college is a magnitude more challenging than for long time citizens.
- The challenge of being an immigrant at a time when the value of immigration is being hotly debated.
- The challenge of being an undocumented immigrant, even with a DACA lifeline. DACA lifelines give hope, but it’s a tenuous lifeline. A lifeline that overnight could be severed by judicial action, legislative action, and/or Executive Department action if a new administration comes into power in 2025. DACA students struggle to plan for a future in the only country they know. For non-DACA undocumented students of course the threat is more imminent and ominous.
- The challenge of being a first generation immigrant in which, for not all, but for many, family support for advancement through education is not strong. Boys too often told by their dads that to be a man means to work and support the family, not to be frivolous with time in college when parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters need support now. Since dad didn’t need a lot of education in order to work hard, neither should he. Girls are told that girls’ place is not in college/technical schools but to get a job out of high school to support family and then prepare be a good wife for a husband provider.
My message to these students. Congratulations. Despite the challenges and the unsure future that citizen students don’t have, you are at MSU today and discerning rewarding careers in health sciences. There’s hope and you mustn’t give up on yourselves. I told them my story of undocumented immigration and abuse, starting my career cleaning toilets in McDonalds. Of being batted down constantly, but not giving up on creativity, innovation, education, curiosity and desire to know and do more as I worked my way up the job ladders despite being demeaned as unworthy because I was an immigrant woman.
I told them understand your life is a bootcamp. In bootcamp, harsh things happens. It’s reality and it’s real. Don’t give up. But believe in yourselves and when there’re setbacks take them graciously as lessons in what you can do better next time. There are no solutions in books or therapy to handle hard times that can’t be addressed through confidence in yourself. Addressed in a way to become stronger and to build your power!
What’s the best way to a healthy confidence for yourself? Stand up for what you believe. Don’t settle for mediocre work when you have the opportunity to step up. Pick your battles, yes, but never dodge the risk of being fired when you have solutions that need to be heard. I’ve been fired more times than I’ve been hired, even from volunteer jobs! I’ve learned each time and become stronger. They laughed, uncomfortably, but knew such risks are necessary when the alternative is the more damaging effects of being beaten down on the system’s terms.
If standing your ground means you’re fired, feel good because you made a decision based on honesty to yourself and you were in control. BTW consider cultivating a spiritual life with God. That way you are never alone in the battle of life you are in, a battle in which you can make a real difference in the world.
Remember: When you get out of college and in the world of your health science profession, you’re not going to Cherry Creek, you’re going into Afghanistan so prepare yourselves now. Relish the adventure and grow with it, don’t fear it. You’re going into a profession that is dedicated to helping others. We need you. Most importantly. Don’t forget your past, what you had to do and the challenges you had to face to be successful. You’ll understand life in a way citizen students who haven’t gone through your bootcamp won’t. Be there to help those diverse peoples who come to you with their challenges, as I’m here to help you.
For the DACA/undocumented students, this was not the standard advice on gearing up for their futures. They were eager and fascinated and wanted to hear more.
I was only scheduled to go for an hour, but the students wouldn’t let me go nor did I want to leave them, so we went for two. We shared a lot of tears together, these DACA/undocumented students and me, because they’re in a bootcamp citizen students don’t understand but that they have to live and have lived, undocumented. And for me, tears of joy because I could share with them realistic optimism for hope in their lives.
I got this response from Ms. Samanta Chumacero, Health Career Navigator with Health Institute Programs:
“Thank you so much again for taking time out of your very busy schedule to come speak to our students on Saturday. Our students left feeling inspired and motivated to continue to fight for their dreams and careers. And I think we all appreciated you being so real about the realities and challenges of being an immigrant, a woman, a person of color etc. in this country. It was so empowering. Please let us know if we can support you in your work at all and I hope we see you on our campus again soon!”
With so much gratitude and respect,
One School, One Vaccine At A Time
Earlier that week I was able to put into action again my own bootcamp training. This time at Denver’s Abraham Lincoln High School vaccination clinic. Partnering again with the extraordinary team of Public Health Institute at Denver Health (PHIDH) vaccinators and the school staff. This was my first time helping organize a high school vaccination clinic. All prior ones had been elementary and middle schools. It was intriguing to engage the teenagers who were inquisitive about vaccinations. I found them interested in their health and curious about the value of vaccination. They were willing to talk about it. We were delighted to have Immunize Colorado’s new Executive Director, Ms. Susan Lontine (a former state representative), connecting with community that evening and experiencing the school community first hand.
Like at the elementary schools, there was an atmosphere of conviviality at Abraham Lincoln but with a twist of education for students and their parents. Thanks to Dr. Jessica Cataldi, a specialist in Pediatrics and Infectious Disease at Children’s Hospital. She crafted a continuous projected slide presentation, “Vaccines for Infants”/”Vacunas para Infantes” for the clinic. See the pic below. I was honored to transcreate the Spanish language presentation to make sure the information registered with Spanish speakers.
The clinic went smoothly. There were complications of course as happens in all such clinics, but nothing that PHIDH did not handle confidently and professionally. Another shout out to the RN Program Manager, Ms. McKenzie Johnson, who managed the clinic in a way that is a model of Public Health in action dedicated to building cultures of health in the Latino community.
In all, we provided 216 vaccines. Most students needed all 9 shots for compliance! The clinic was supposed to operate from 3pm to 6pm, but because so many families were showing up we started at 230pm and ended at 7pm. This time we didn’t run out of vaccines. And unlike some prior schools, there was great teamwork with school administration. Special shout out to Ms. Jossie Cordova, Parent Engagement Coordinator at the high school. Her support was instrumental for smooth operations.
I’ve been invited to speak or train on Cultural Validation at:
- Grand River Hospital and Medical Center in Rifle, CO, February 12, 2024 (also speaking on access to care at St. Mary’s Parish (Rifle) Masses the weekend before)
- 2nd International Conference on Vaccine Research and Development in Munich, Germany, April 22-24, 2024.
- Leadership Is For Everyone (LIFE) workshop in Wheat Ridge, CO, April 23 or 25th, 2024. (won’t be able to accept because I’ll be in Munich at that time).
- Public Health Law Practitioners convening inNew Orleans, April 30-May 2, 2024.
- 2024 NCDHHS VFC Training Conference in Durhan, NC May 8-10, 2024.
- Law and Society Association Annual Meeting in Denver, June 6-9, 2024.
It’s apparent that interest in Cultural Validation as part of the strategy to build cultures of health in Latino/BIPOC communities is building in Colorado, nationwide and internationally now.